Tomorrow, the Italian PM Renzi will meet French president Hollande and German Chancellor Merkel in Ventotene to discuss the path of future European integration. The location is highly symbolic: Ventotene is where Altiero Spinelli, a founder of the federalist movement elaborated (along with Ernesto Rossi and Eugenio Colorni) a manifesto for the United States of Europe (called the Ventotene manifesto) while imprisoned during the second world war.
In his historical speech at the university of Zurich in 1946, Winston Churchill advocated for the United States of Europe. He pronounced words which may seem today those of a convinced European federalist like Altiero Spinelli who wrote a few years before his manifesto of Ventotene. He said: The structure of the United States of Europe, if well and truly built, will be such as to make the material strength of a single state less important. Small nations will count as much as large ones and gain their honour by their contribution to the common cause. (...) If we are to form the United States of Europe or whatever name or form it may take, we must begin now.
The seed was sown and was actually picked up by three personalities that even for this became part of European history: Schuman, Adenauer, De Gasperi, from France, Germany and Italy, who adhered to the Ventotene Manifesto and founded as a first concrete step the coal and steel Community, which was followed soon after by a common authority in Rome and the signing in 1957 of the European Treaties. Starting with a European Parliament with relevant institutions that culminated in a real confederation of states: Italy, Germany, France, Benelux (Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg). Then Spain, Portugal, Austria and so on. The result is known in both the positive phase as in the negative, until the acceding States became 28 and among them 19 joined the single currency called the euro, created and put into circulation between 1999 and 2002
Today Europe is very different from what the manifesto called for more than 70 years ago. It is confronted to unprecedented problems : waves of migrants from South Africa and the South East Europe; secular economic stagnation ; emergence of populist movements and xenophobic parties, populist, against the common currency; Great Britain withdrew from the Union; wide spread Islamic terrorism led by Isis leverages social peripheries of the whole world and finally on the visible decline of the European sentiment that is spreading across the continent and casts doubt even the current supra-national institutions thereby making distant and doubtful the transition to the Federation which was at the heart of Spinelli's Manifesto.
Tomorrow Italy, France and Germany will meet precisely in Ventotene to curb this situation nothing short of desperate. What will come out of this meeting between the three powers which now represent a kind of triumvirate born to indicate (certainly not to impose) the future of European path without the United Kingdom?
It is expected that the informal talks will serve as a springboard for action when leaders of the 27 meet in Bratislava in September. If it delivers a 'credible response' , the summit could lead to a new 'political pact' (as Gozi, the EU secretary for Eu affairs called it in an interview to the FT on 18 August) to be launched on the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which founded the European Community in 1957. As Philippe Aigrain put it, the call for further EU integration that Italy supports with more pooling of sovereignty , especially on issues of economic policy, migration and security may be opposed by France and Germany. Italy's narrower objectives for further integration include boosting the Juncker plan, with more funds for infrastructure and support to businesses. It also envisages more funds for youth unemployment, cultural exchanges as well as for the integration of migrants and deportation of those not eligible for asylum with readmission agreements with countries of origin.
While the federalist project is still regarded as old fashioned, Europe inarguably needs change to respond to its many crises. Guy Verhofstadt's book (Le Mal Européen) precisely addresses these issues and makes concrete proposals. Federalism is not just a symbol, it requires concrete action.